Chemical Profile: Chloroxylenol

Chemical Profile Chloroxylenol MADE SAFE Blog

Why It Matters

Chloroxylenol is used in consumer products, increasingly since the ban of triclosan, triclocarban, and other harmful antimicrobials in hand soaps by the FDA in 2017 and 2018. However, don’t get too excited opting for products with this ingredient. The safety of chloroxylenol remains uncertain, and there is evidence to suggest it is a potential endocrine disruptor, deeming chloroxylenol a not-so-great replacement after all.

What Is It?

Chloroxylenol was first introduced as a fungicide in the U.S. in 1959 [10] and has long been used in household disinfectants and topical over-the-counter medicines.[7]

Following the FDA ban of triclosan, triclocarban, and other antimicrobial ingredients in soaps in 2017 and 2018, chloroxylenol was one of many compounds used to replace these active ingredients. The three most commonly used replacements for triclosan and triclocarban include chloroxylenol, benzalkonium chloride, and benzethonium chloride. [7] The FDA's rulemaking on chloroxylenol was deferred to allow more time for research into its safety and efficacy. In the meantime, it is still used in consumer products, regardless of the uncertainty surrounding its safety.

Chemical Profile Chloroxylenol Infographic MADE SAFE Blog

Where It's Found

Chloroxylenol is an antibacterial chemical mostly found in hand soap and hand sanitizer, but has also long been used in household disinfectants and topical over-the-counter medicines.

The Health Concern

The European Union classifies chloroxylenol as a skin and eye irritant, and skin sensitizer. [4] It is also toxic to aquatic life. Although research into its ecotoxicity is limited, chloroxylenol has been chronically linked to DNA damage, reproductive toxicity, and neurotoxicity in aquatic species. [1] [7] [8] The enhanced prevalence of chloroxylenol in consumer products has raised environmental concern, considering increased environmental occurrence is expected as a result of its wider expansion to everyday consumer products following the ban of triclosan and triclocarban. [2]

In 2011, it was placed on the TEDX List of Potential Endocrine Disruptors for its connection to other phenolic additives that were already established endocrine disruptors. [9] Since then, research on chloroxylenol has linked the substance to hormone disruption and testicular toxicity. [3] Some research suggests chloroxylenol may also play a role in antibiotic resistance, although findings on this topic are limited and inconsistent. [5] [6]

Humans are primarily exposed to chloroxylenol through dermal contact (e.g., using hand sanitizers), and chloroxylenol has been detected in urine samples. [8] Its widespread occurrence in aquatic environments around the world is indicative of prevalent human exposure. [8]

The available research on chloroxylenol is conflicting, and more studies are necessary to better understand the impacts of its widespread use on human health, which is largely unknown. Its increased use in recent years and evidence of toxic effects on the environment are enough to warrant caution and avoidance of this substance in consumer products. Because of chloroxylenol’s potential endocrine active capabilities, [3] [9] MADE SAFE exercises the precautionary principle and does not permit the ingredient in certified products.

How to Avoid It

Read labels, and avoid chloroxylenol. Also:

  • Wash hands with plain soap and water. It is one of the most important steps you can take to avoid spreading germs and getting sick. Also, the CDC recommends scrubbing hands for at least 20 seconds (the amount of time it takes to sing Happy Birthday in your head).
  • Prioritize hand washing over the use of hand sanitizers. If you must use hand sanitizer, avoid using sanitizers with chloroxylenol listed on the label.
  • Try to avoid products labeled or marketed as “antimicrobial,” “odor fighting,” “germ-killing,” or “antibacterial,” especially when the ingredients are not disclosed.
  • Shop MADE SAFE Certified products.


[1] Capkin, E., Ozcelep, T., Kayis, S., and Altinok, I. (2017). Antimicrobial agents, triclosan, chloroxylenol, methylisothiazolinone and borax, used in cleaning had genotoxic and histopathologic effects on rainbow trout. Chemosphere. 182: 720-729.

[2] Choi, D. and Oh, S. (2019). Removal of Chloroxylenol Disinfectant by an Activated Sludge Microbial Community. Microbes Environ. 34 (2):129-135.

[3] El-Naggar, D.A., El-Zalabany, L.M.A., Shahin, D.A., Attia, A.M., El-Mosallamy, S.A. (2022). Testicular Toxicity of Chloroxylenol in Rats: Biochemical, Pathological and Flow Cytometric Study. Journal of Experimental Pharmacology. 14: 213-220.

[4] European Chemicals Agency. 4-chloro-3,5-xylenol. REACH – Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation Registered Substances Factsheets. Accessed September 12, 2022.

[5] Guo, Y., Gao, J., Cui, Y., Wang, Z., Li, Z., Duan, W., Wang, Y., Wu, Z. (2022). Chloroxylenol at environmental concentrations can promote conjugative transfer of antibiotic resistance genes by multiple mechanisms. Science of the Total Environment. 816.

[6] Maillard, J. (2022). Impact of benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride and chloroxylenol on bacterial antimicrobial resistance. Journal of Applied Microbiology. 00:1-25.

[7] Sreevidya, V.S., Lenz, K.A., Svoboda, K.R., and Ma, H. (2018). Benzalkonium chloride, benzethonium chloride, and chloroxylenol – Three replacement antimicrobials are more toxic than triclosan and triclocarban in two model organisms. Environmental Pollution. 235: 814-824.

[8] Tan, J., Kuang, H., Wang, C., Liu, J., Pang, Q., Xie, Q., and Fan, R. (2021). Human exposure and health risk assessment of an increasingly used antibacterial alternative in personal care products: Chloroxylenol. Science of the Total Environment. 786: 147524.

[9] The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX). (2017). Search the TEDX list: Chloroxylenol. Accessed September 12, 2022.

[10] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (1994). R.E.D. FACTS, Chloroxylenol.

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